Tel Hazor National Park

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Israelite tower in the upper city. (Photo: S. Magal)
Map of the area of Tel Hazor National Park. (© Carta, Jerusalem)

…for Hazor beforetime was the head of all those kingdoms. (Josh 11:10)

Tel Hazor (the upper city) is part of a larger city which for a long period of time was the most important city in the northern area of the country. It is mentioned in 18th century BC documents from Mesopotamia; among a list of cities conquered in 1478 BC by Egypt’s pharaoh, Thutmose III; in the Tell el-Amarna letters; and in the Bible. The lower city is situated to the north of the Tel, and covers an area of 200 acres; it was encircled by an earthen rampart and moat.

Storehouse from Iron Age (Israelite). (Photo: S. Magal)

Information found in the Bible about Hazor raises some difficult questions. According to the book of Joshua, the city was conquered in the first wave of Israelite infiltration into Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. On the other hand, the book of Judges cites Hazor as an important Canaanite city in the days of the warriors Deborah and Barak, many decades after Joshua’s conquest. Are archaeologists able to affirm or refute these biblical versions? Excavations on the Tel determined that the city was settled at a later date. According to Yigael Yadin, the archaeologist in charge of the excavations, the lower city was destroyed during the course of Joshua’s conquest; on the other hand, the upper city dated from the time of Deborah. The archaeologist Yohanan Aharoni disagreed with this interpretation of the findings arguing that the Joshua story was not a historical account but rather a later story formulated by Israelite settlers who had infiltrated into the area. The dispute remained unsettled. In the book of Kings, King Solomon is accredited with building three cities: Megiddo, Gezer and Hazor. This gave grounds for assuming that important structures, for  example the gates of the three cities, would be similar. The archaeologist R. A. S. Macalister conducted excavations at Gezer early in the 20th century at a time when the rules of excavation did not require documentation, and areas left unexcavated were not safeguarded for future generations of archaeologists.
Macalister destroyed a large part of his dig. From the city gate, which he dated to the Hasmonean period, only a half remains. When Megiddo was excavated, and an entire gate attributed to the days of King Saul was exposed, close inspection revealed that it was identical to the remaining half of the gate at Gezer. Explorations were then conducted at Hazor where its gate was expected to be, and findings revealed that this gate was indeed similar in structure and dimensions to the other two.

Tel Hazor – Map of the mound and excavation areas

The excavations conducted by Yigael Yadin at Hazor indicated that the city’s population ranged between 25,000 and 30,000 inhabitants—a very large settlement for these times. This certainly confirmed the biblical claim that it was “the head of all those Kingdoms” (Josh 11:10). The city was founded and flourished in the Middle Bronze II period (18th–17th cent. BC). This large city was destroyed suddenly by fire in the 13th century BC and was not rebuilt. Findings from this site are on exhibit at the Hazor Museum on the east side of the bypass, within the gates of Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar (visiting arrangements for groups only).
Excavations at Tel Hazor uncovered numerous finds from various early periods until the days of the Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser III, who destroyed the city in the course of his conquest of the Kingdom of Israel in 732 BC.

Cultic platform. (Photo: S. Magal)

It is clearly impossible to excavate the entire site. In the six locations that were excavated, many important finds were exposed: the city gate, streets, colonnades, residential structures, a sanctuary, statues,  various artifacts, and inscriptions. A Hebrew inscription found on one vessel reads: “To Pekah Semadar.” This may be a ref-erence to a king of Israel, Pekah son of Remaliah. Another name inscription, Machbiram, is not found in the Bible. The Tel is not a single city, but rather several cities on top of each other, and if identification is correct, there is a Canaanite city at one level, above it a composite city built by King Solomon, and King Ahab’s city above this. The water system is a most impressive finding and bears some resemblance to that uncovered at Megiddo. It has a vertical shaft, 40 m in length, with descending rock-cut steps. Unlike Megiddo, an underground tunnel from the bottom of the shaft does not extend beyond the city wall but to a water source within the city. Tel Hazor is a National Park and its excavation continues. The last word about its history has yet to be revealed.

Tel Hazor – Sites to visit

Sites to visit at Tel Hazor

Only the sites on the upper mound are open to the public. The sites below are listed according to archaeological periods.

The Iron Age (Israelite period, 9th–8th cent. BC)

  1. Remains of fortifications, living quarters and a granary.
  2. City wall from time of Ahab.
  3. “Beit Yael” — a restored residence with an olive press, a “pillared building” that served as a public storehouse. The structure was relocated from Area A to allow for excavation work on the Canaanite palace.
  4. Remains of an Israelite fortress from the time of King Ahab. In its façade is a gate decorated with embossed capitals. A gate of similar design has been found at other public buildings dating    from the same period. The fortress was destroyed by Tiglath-pileser III in 732 BC.
  5. Water system built by King Ahab. A descending staircase of 80 steps led to the water source 40 m below ground level. Access was via a rock-hewn shaft.
Cultic platform near the Cannanite palace. (Photo: S. Magal)

Iron Age (10th cent. BC)
A. A gate at the entrance to the Israelite city with six chambers, three on each side, from the time of King Solomon. Similar gates may be found at Gezer and Megiddo. Two towers, one on each side of the entrance gate, frame this part of the façade.
B. A casemate wall that con-tinued both north and south until it reached the end of the Tel and then turned westward. Thus, it enclosed the entire western part of the upper city.

Iron Age (12th–11th cent. BC)
A ritual platform (bamah) from the period of the Judges stands beside the Israelite fortress (4).

Late Bronze I period (14th–13th cent. BC)
A Canaanite royal palace. Exca-vations have exposed a large courtyard with an altar at the center, two huge pillar bases, and a throne room with rooms on either side. In the palace are several inscriptions in cuneiform written on clay tablets, and stone and bronze statues.

Late Bronze II period (15th–14th cent. BC)
A Canaanite temple discovered below the Solomonic gate.

Steps to the water system. (Photo: S. Magal)

Outside the National Park AreaHazor Museum
The museum is located inside the entrance to Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar. Various findings from Tel Hazor are exhibited here including reliefs of lions, Canaanite temples with ritual vessels, statues and artifacts.

Nahal Hatzor Nature Reserve
Nahal Hatzor begins at the Dalton plateau and spills into the Jordan River beside Kibbutz Hulata. The central sector of the Nahal forms a canyon and along its length are recesses and caves. These were largely formed through karstic dissolution processes and the remainder was hewn by man to provide living quarters.
The canyon cliff is a nesting place for birds of prey.
This entire area is included in the Nahal Hatzor Nature Reserve.

Oil Press. (Photo: S. Magal)

By: Azaria Alon